Chevron Richmond poured at least $1.26 million into the Richmond mayoral and city council races between Aug. 14 and Sept. 29, funneling the money through three campaign committees, all with iterations of the name “Moving Forward.”
According to documents filed with the Richmond City Clerk, Moving Forward’s campaign committee, created in 2012, transferred at least $1.9 million as of Sept. 17 to two newly-created committees. The amount transferred exceeds the $1.7 million cash on hand figure that was widely reported after the last filing deadline on June 30. Moving Forward has likely received additional money from Chevron or other sources. The next campaign filing deadline is Oct. 6.
The two new committees have spent a combined total of at least $1,268,688.17 so far, with over a month remaining before the Nov. 4 election.
One committee has reported at least $969,139.02 in spending supporting Nat Bates for mayor and Donna Powers, Charles Ramsey and Al Martinez for city council.
The other committee has reported spending at least $299,549.15 in a counter-campaign against Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez, progressive candidates and Chevron critics who are running for city council.
Chevron has long played a role in local elections, and has hiked its political spending in recent election cycles as more upstarts have won council seats with anti-Chevron rhetoric as a cornerstone of their platforms. The company operates California’s second-largest refinery in Richmond, and its taxes fund about one-third of the city’s General Fund budget.
But this year’s massive spending, spread across multiple committees, represents an effort by the oil giant to ramp up the effectiveness of its political efforts and mask the size and scope of its campaign, according to a campaign finance transparency advocate.
“This is a good way, and I’m using the word good ironically, for corporations to obfuscate where funding actually comes from,” said Sarah Swanbeck of California Common Cause. Swanbeck added that the creation of multiple campaign committees with similar names is unusual.
None of the three Moving Forward committees’ representatives responded to requests for comment. All three committees list the same phone number, address, and share the same five people as treasurer, assistant treasurer and officers.
Bates, the biggest beneficiary of Chevron/Moving Forward’s spending, said he doesn’t know why there are three campaign committees.
“I have no contact with Chevron, that’s by law,” he said. “I think whatever they do will be legal, and I can’t imagine them doing anything illegal with respect to the contributions.”
There is a $2,500 limit on individual contributions to candidates in Richmond elections. But spending by, and contributions to, independent campaign committees like Moving Forward is unlimited, thanks to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.
The two new campaign committees registered with the Richmond City Clerk in early August, according to campaign finance records.
One committee registered with the name “Moving Forward with Nat Bates for Mayor 2014, with major funding by Moving Forward, a coalition of labor unions, small businesses, public safety and firefighters associations. Major funding by Chevron.”
The other registered with the name “Moving Forward with Corky Booze for City Council 2014, with major funding by Moving Forward, a coalition of labor unions, small bus., public safety and firefighters associations. Major funding by Chevron.”
On Aug. 26, the committee “Moving Forward with Corky Booze …” filed an amendment changing its name to “Moving Forward, opposing Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez, and Jovanka Beckles for City Council 2014 …”
Booze, a controversial figure on the Richmond City Council, is running for reelection, and has been a consistent backer of local measures favored by Chevron. But he has also been the subject of increasing criticism for his combative style at public meetings, and his political opponents have questioned whether that style caused Chevron to distance itself from him this year, after supporting his campaign in 2010.
The “Moving Forward with Nat Bates …” committee filed an amendment on Aug. 19 changing its name to “Moving Forward with Nat Bates for Mayor, and Donna Powers, Charles Ramsey, and Al Martinez for City Council 2014 …”
Of the $1,268,688.17 in Chevron/Moving Forward’s documented independent expenditures to date, more than one-third has been spent on mailers, which Richmond voters pluck from their mailboxes on a daily basis. Another one-third has been spent on billboards. The smiling faces of Bates, Powers, Ramsey and Al Martinez can be seen from the city’s busiest streets and freeways.
Bates is clear that he will have a friendly relationship with Chevron if elected mayor.
“If I’m the mayor one of the first things I’m going to do is sit down with Chevron,” he said. “Let’s sit down and work together for Chevron’s benefit and for the City of Richmond’s benefit.”
While only one-quarter of Chevron/Moving Forward’s $1.26 million has been spent on negative campaigning against progressive candidates, in the period between Aug. 15 and Sept. 29 the committee spent more opposing Eduardo Martinez than supporting Al Martinez. Both are vying for the same seat. According to the available independent expenditure reports, Moving Forward has spent at least $89,000 opposing Eduardo Martinez, and at least $61,000 supporting Al Martinez.
Tom Butt, a city councilman and mayoral candidate, said there is not much he can do in the face of the more than $325,000 Moving Forward has already spent putting Bates’ face on billboards around the city and flooding residents with glossy mailers.
“They’ve already spent six times more than my budget, and before it’s over they’ll probably double that,” Butt said. “I’m not happy about it, but there’s nothing I can do.”
Beckles, the target of almost $100,000 in Moving Forward’s negative spending so far, has a different outlook. The campaign committee has attacked Beckles with websites and mailers questioning her performance on the council and adding up her receipts for fast food dinners and other on-the-job expenses.
“I’m pretty flattered that they see me as someone who is going to hold them accountable,” Beckles said. “All you need is four votes for anything to pass and they [Chevron] are trying to buy four votes.”